Over 80? It's still safe to go for breast cancer surgery: Study

97% of patients recover without major complications

Breast cancer surgery is safe for those over 80.

A new study by the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), on more than 100 such patients, found that all of them recovered from operations to remove the breast.

Lead researcher Ong Kong Wee explained that not all surgeons may give patients the option of surgery.

"The results of this study are important as it dispels the misconception and fear among the public that breast cancer surgery for elderly patients is unsafe, or has a high complication rate," said Dr Ong, a senior consultant in the centre's surgical oncology division.

"Surgery is the most important modality of treatment in breast cancer. Elderly patients should not be deprived of such options."

Madam Tay Sai Eng, 88, was one who benefited. She went under the knifein May last year. "Initially, I had my doubts about surgery," said Madam Tay in Mandarin. "But if I had not done it then, the cancer might have worsened and it might have become even more risky to do the surgery later."

She has recovered well and resumed her calligraphy and painting hobbies.

The research was highlighted by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the opening of the third SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress yesterday.

About 1,700 women in Singapore are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, the No. 1 cancer among women. Almost all eventually require surgery, and among them 5 per cent are aged over 80.

The study, involving 109 elderly women treated at NCCS, found that 97 per cent of the patients recovered without major complications, even thougheight in 10 had other medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Only three patients developed major complications such as deep vein thrombosis, but they also recovered later.

Yesterday, Dr Tan also launched the new National Heart Research Institute Singapore at the event.

The joint venture by the National Heart Centre Singapore and Duke-NUS will conduct research in heart and blood vessel function, genetics and metabolic heart disease.

Its research will focus on the Asian population, and could fill a gap since the majority of such work has been done in the West, said Dr Stuart Cook, professor of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders programme at Duke-NUS, who will head the new institute. The charitable Tanoto Foundation donated $3 million to the new institute.

At the event, which was also attended by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong and international scientists, Professor Soo Kee Chee, the deputy group chief executive officer for research and education at SingHealth, gave an update on a new building for NCCS. It could be at least 25 storeys high; construction could start next year; and it could be ready in five years, he said.

Right now, Singapore has 15,000 new cancer cases a year. But that number is expected to increase rapidly. "We have to expand capacity and build for the future," he explained.

kashc@sph.com.sg